When winter snow makes way for warm spring rains, the base of South Mountain comes alive. This is when shallow, seasonal pools—called vernal ponds—develop and wake up the surrounding forest. Tree frogs, toads, spring peepers and a variety of salamanders emerge from underground dwellings, slipping through melting ice to breed. Both the amphibians and vernal ponds disappear with the summer heat, while a wide array of plants—including the federally endangered northeastern bulrush and rare golden club—hold a place until wet weather returns in the fall.
Vernal ponds represent a unique habitat since they support numerous species that have adapted to a cyclical pattern of wet and dry seasons. For salamanders and many other amphibians, the ponds provide vital breeding grounds that are absent of fish and other predators unable to survive in these temporary wetlands. However, since vernal ponds rely on rainfall as their sole source of water, their absence during dry seasons makes them vulnerable to destruction. This vulnerability has been perpetuated by a lack of protection under the federal Clean Water Act, and unspecific safeguards within the state of Pennsylvania.
In 1995, The Nature Conservancy acquired 10 acres surrounding one of the most prominent ponds in this landscape. Since then, the Conservancy has worked with local partners to bring attention to vernal ponds near South Mountain, and throughout Pennsylvania. Bringing their attention to local residents and visitors represents one positive step towards protecting some of the most remarkable amphibian gatherings anywhere in Pennsylvania.
35 mile-long belt located at the northern and western base of South Mountain
Franklin and Cumberland counties, 2 miles west of the town of Scotland
What You’ll See/At Stake
Seasonal vernal ponds. Rare plant species, including northwestern bulrush and golden club. High bush blueberry and other wetland shrubs. Amphibians, including northern spring peepers, wood and noisy chorus frogs, and Jefferson, spotted and marbled salamanders.
Habitat loss to housing subdivisions. Runoff from logging operations, sand and gravel mines, and farms. Insecticide spraying for mosquitoes.
Conducting the first statewide inventory of vernal pools, including the collection of information on species, water quality and other features. Assembling management guidelines for local landowners interested in protecting vernal ponds. Acquiring easements and land from willing landowners with vernal ponds on their property.
Acquisition of ten acres around the area’s most prominent ponds in 1995. Initiation of a partnership with Messiah College to research vernal ponds in 2005.
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Central Pennsylvania Conservancy, Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program, Messiah College
Things To Do
Contact The Nature Conservancy to learn about opportunities for visiting vernal ponds at Mountain Run Ponds or other sites in the South Mountain Area.
Mountain Run Ponds is not open to the public due to the fragile nature of the habitat. However, interested conservationists may view the preserve during a volunteer workday.
The Nature Conservancy
2101 North Front Street
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17110
Phone: (717) 232-6001